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Foreign Language Careers for College Graduates With Language Skills

Updated on September 30, 2021
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul has spent a lifetime traveling and learning many languages. He is now conversant in Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese, and Thai.



Majoring in a Foreign Language

Up until the mid-1960s, I thought that people only studied the European languages of Spanish, French, German, and occasionally Russian in addition to classical Latin and Greek. After all, most high schools in my home state of Wisconsin only offered Latin, Greek, and Spanish to students. After I went off to college in 1962, it seemed like most of the kids I knew were studying either French or German and sometimes Russian.

At that time I was under the impression that most persons took a foreign language for two basic purposes: one, to become a high school teacher of a Romance language like Spanish or French; and two, to use a foreign language like written French, German, and Russian to do scientific research. Little did I realize at that time that much more could be done with a foreign language major.

This all changed after I went into the Navy and started to study Chinese Mandarin. Upon attending the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, in 1967, I realized that many servicemen were studying a lot of exotic foreign languages like Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese Mandarin, Russian, Korean, Portuguese, Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish. Certainly, these foreign languages were being used for different purposes other than teaching and doing scientific research.

In this article, based on personal experiences, I suggest several foreign language careers for college graduates with language skills.

Careers in Education

There are still many career opportunities for college foreign language majors in the field of education. They include careers as:

1. Primary, Junior High, and Senior High Foreign Language Teachers

In all areas of the United States, especially on the east and west coasts, many foreign languages such as Chinese Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, and French are offered to primary and secondary school students. Qualified teachers in these languages have an education degree with a major in their chosen foreign language. If preparing to become a Chinese Mandarin teacher, the education student will study the vernacular during the first two years with an emphasis on grammar, listening and speaking, and the reading and writing of basic Chinese characters. During the third and fourth years of college, students will take courses in classical Chinese, Chinese linguistics, and contemporary Chinese literature.

2. College Instructors

A student who obtains a Master's or Doctorate in a foreign language will be able to get a teaching position at a college or university, In the process of getting a Master's or Doctorate, the student must do some research in the areas of vernacular, literature, or linguistics. A thesis must be accepted, written, and defended before a student is awarded a Master's or Doctorate.

Foreign Language Careers for College Graduates

Careers with the United States Government

Unknown to a lot of people, there are a lot of jobs and careers available with the U.S. federal government. Many of these jobs are exciting and offer foreign travel opportunities. There also are jobs that require holding top-secret security clearances. Some of the best places to use your foreign language major with the government would be in careers with the following organizations:

1. The State Department

Every year the State Department hires many United States citizens as foreign service officers or diplomats to staff its positions in Washington D.C. and also at embassies around the world. To be eligible for employment, a person must pass a highly competitive foreign service exam. I took the exam years ago and thought it was very difficult. It tested your knowledge of American and world history, economics, politics, American literature, religion, and other topics. If accepted for employment, the new employee will attend a foreign service officer school and be trained as an officer specializing in political, economic, trade, cultural, consular, and other affairs handled at embassies and consulates around the world. The foreign service officer will also get training in a foreign language that he or she will use in the country where posted for duty.

2. The Central Intelligence Agency

In the wake of 911 and the upsurge in global terrorism, intelligence agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency or C.I.A. headquartered in Langley, Virginia, have been hiring many individuals with foreign language skills. Just like the State Department, anyone hired by the C.I.A. must be a college graduate and a U.S. citizen. The C.I.A. applicant must also be vetted by security organs to assure he or she is trustworthy of holding a top-secret security clearance. In response to the war on terror and other hot spots in the world today, qualified applicants with proficiency in languages like Arabic, Pashto, Punjabi, Urdu, Dari Persian, Chinese Mandarin, and Korean are in high demand. As CIA agents, persons will work either at Langley headquarters or at numerous places worldwide where they will work getting intelligence from other foreign intelligence agents or assets.

3. The National Security Agency

The National Security Agency or N.S.A. is located at Fort Meade, Maryland, just south of Baltimore, Maryland. As a major player in the U.S. intelligence community, one of its jobs is to produce foreign signals intelligence information. To do this job, N.S.A. employs numerous linguists in almost every language around the world to transcribe and translate foreign languages. Similar to the C.I.A., an applicant must be a U.S. citizen and a college graduate. Prospective employees must also be vetted by security organs before they are given top-secret security clearances to work at the Agency.

4. The Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Federal Bureau of Investigation or F.B.I. is an internal intelligence agency that specializes in counter-intelligence and tracking federal crime. Historically, the F.B.I. has tracked the activities of foreign intelligence operants in the U.S. Since 911, it has been closely watching terror cells like Al-Qaeda in the United States. Besides having agents for its headquarters in Washington and field offices throughout the U.S., the F.B.I. employs language specialists in such languages as Arabic, Pashto, Urdu, Punjabi, Dari Persian, Russian, and Chinese Mandarin.

5. The Voice of America

The Voice of America or V.O.A. as a propaganda arm of the U.S. government produces radio broadcasts in such languages as Chinese Mandarin, Russian, Korean, Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, and Dari Persian which are beamed to residents of the countries where these languages are spoken, After living in Taiwan for six years during the 70s, I applied for employment as a V.O.A. broadcaster in 1980. As part of the application process, I took perhaps the most difficult language test in my life. With a time limit of two or three hours, I had to translate an international news article in English into Chinese Mandarin, and then read my translation as a news broadcaster.

6. The Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established in 2002 as a direct response to September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. When DHS was formed it absorbed the old Customs Bureau and Immigration and Naturalization Service among other federal agencies. Foreign language work for college graduates is possible with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs, and Border Protection, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. All of these organizations are under DHS. Spanish proficiency is primarily needed by Customs and Immigration. Proficiency in other languages such as Arabic, Mandarin, and other Chinese languages, and Vietnamese is also needed by DHS which works closely with the FBI.

Department of Homeland Security


The CIA is Hiring

Careers with the United Nations

The United Nations headquartered in New York offers language positions as interpreters and translators in support of multi-lateral communications in the six official languages of the U.N.: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, Russian, and Spanish. To win a language position, an applicant must pass a competitive language exam. Besides doing translation and interpretation work at the U.N. headquarters in New York, language specialists could work in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Beirut, Geneva, Nairobi, and Santiago.

Jobs as Translators

There are several jobs listed for freelance translators online to translate business, education. legal, technical, and other written language topics from various languages into English. One of the better websites to find jobs is at TranslatorsCafe where after joining, you can create a resume and bid on many posted translation jobs.

Jobs as Interpreters

An interpreter is a linguist who is responsible for simultaneously or with a short delay rendering the spoken language of one person into the different spoken language of another person. For example, this might entail interpreting Chinese Mandarin into English, and then English into Chinese if the interpreter is serving the interpretation needs for both languages. There is a demand for interpreters not only with the U.N., but also for courts, immigration services, and businesses. An interpreter just like a translator is fluent in two languages and also the cultures of the countries of the two languages he or she is interpreting to and from.

With the expansion of a global economy today and the war on terror, drugs, and organized crime, there are more opportunities for college graduates with foreign language majors than ever before. Majoring in a foreign language is certainly a good investment for a college student.


Foreign Language Careers

With a degree and major in a foreign language, which career would most appeal to you?

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Foreign Language Careers for College Graduates

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn


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    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thanks for reading and commenting on this hub. Since Russia is still one of America's adversaries, I'm sure you could find Russian language translation work with the government.

    • Elisha Jachetti profile image

      Elisha Jachetti 

      8 years ago

      Great to know. I am studying Russian right now and I just pulled up Translators Cafe to check it out.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Foreign language work is extremely interesting, especially if you have the chance of using languages abroad. There are really a lot of jobs with the government for college foreign language majors. I'm very happy you liked this hub. Thank you very much for sharing it.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      8 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

      That's a wide list of job avenues open to a foreign language major. Very interesting and informative read, Paul.

      Voted up and useful and shared as well.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thanks for reading this hub. I'm very happy that you found it useful.

    • MarieAlana1 profile image

      Marie Alana 

      8 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks for all of the great information! It really explains what people have been advising me.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thanks for reading this hub and your comments. I really appreciate them.

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I think with the growth of the Internet and the globalization of almost all trade, learning a foreign language is useful to almost any career. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thanks for your personal comments. I appreciate them.

    • kidscrafts profile image


      8 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      I met my husband in highschool in Belgium... so we speak French together :-) I can understand quite a lot of Dutch but I am just terrified by the idea of speaking it!

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thank you very much for your great interesting comments. Does your husband communicate with you in French or English? If he could not speak English or French, I think you would learn Dutch in a hurry to communicate with him.

    • kidscrafts profile image


      8 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Great article with a lot of useful information!

      Knowing a second language can open so many doors! My husband and I immigrated to Canada more than 32 years ago from Belgium barely being able to speak English. My first language is French. We decided to live in the English part of Ottawa and I had no choice than to immerse myself in the language! Now I can give art workshops to kids in both official languages in Ottawa.

      I find that when you learn a new language, you receive a lot but you can also give because with this gift of communication you can help and share with more people!

      Voted up and interesting!

      PS : I try to learn Dutch because my husband is from the Netherlands but not being immerse in it makes it more difficult!

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      curious dreamer,

      Thanks for reading this hub and your comment. I appreciate it.

    • curious dreamer profile image

      Mahesh Mohan 

      8 years ago from India

      informative hub..................

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thank you very much for reading this hub and your great comments. I really appreciate them. I also am very grateful for your pinning, tweeting, and sharing this article.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett C 

      8 years ago from Asia

      If there had have been a VERY useful button, I would have clicked it. This is something that annoyed me about my education. We were offered French or German, but as I didn't think I would go to these places (except maybe on holiday), I didn't make an effort and wasn't interested.

      Hence, I think that part of language education should be about what is possible with the language that you are studying, the places that it is used and clear career guidance. Had that been provided, I would have tried far harder while studying German and French, as now I understand the prospects and versatility of both.

      Up, useful, awesome, pinned, tweeted and SHARED.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      That's interesting, Paula. I never asked from which place in Austria my grandmother was from. I guess I could find out when I start doing some genealogy research.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      8 years ago from Carson City

      Paul....Austria? My Ukranian GREAT grandparents fled to Galecia Austria, from the Ukraine, for safety from a bully named, "Adolf," per what I've been told. From there, obviously, they came to America.....(both sets of Gr. grandparents) as my grandparents were both born here. Sounds as though Austria was the place to run to.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thanks for reading and your comments. I really appreciate them.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      8 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      What a great resource for college students! Thanks for putting this together!

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thanks for reading and your great comments. The story about your uncle's Ukranian parents makes me think about my dad and his parents. My grandmother immigrated to the States when she was in her teens from Austria. Although my grandfather was born in Wisconsin, he grew up learning to speak German. My dad often talked about wanting to learn German when he was growing up, but that his parents were just like your grandparents in wanting to speak only English with the kids. Chinese Mandarin was difficult to learn, but the Taiwanese dialect was easier because I learned it from my wife and used it more as a second language than Mandarin, I started learning Thai when I was 58, and it was a lot harder than Mandarin.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thanks for reading and your great encouraging comments!

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thanks for reading and your encouraging comments. There are many naturalized citizens who are able to get the jobs I describe in my hub. The problem is that in the past it was more difficult for a naturalized citizen from a Communist country to get a security clearance. There are, however, some naturalized citizens from Communist countries who do have security clearances. I guess it would depend on the foreign contacts one has and if they are close and continuing.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      8 years ago from Carson City

      Paul, Once again you have written an interesting and informative Hub. It's clear you were born to be a teacher. Each time I read your work, I become that much more educated on a topic of value.....and I love to learn.

      Four years of Spanish, here, and ashamed to say I did not do the smart thing by continuing and honing this skill. I say this due to the healthy array of bi-lingual(Spanish) employment opportunities, available in my particular area of the country. Of course, retired now, employment is not an issue. Let's just say this is one of those mini-regrets we use in response to, "What would you do differently?"

      My sister and I also often talked about the gifts right under our noses! Paternal grandparents, from whom we had the free opportunity to learn Ukranian, as well as Italian, from our Maternal grandparents.

      However, on that Uncle recently told me that his Ukranian parents, born here, & raised by their immigrant parents, although bi-lingual, made it a point to NOT encourage their kids to speak the language. As a result, my grandparents used English strictly, in raising their children. They were so seriously intent on stressing "We're AMERICANS," which I understand was the way they thought that many decades ago?

      Being fluent in a 2nd...or better, 3rd & 4th language, is always a huge PLUS, in so many you've clearly presented in your hub.

      I'm in awe of anyone who tackles any language of the Far East....."Chinese?"....I mean, in terms of just "listening," I would assume it's terribly difficult.

      All of the Nail salons, it seems, are owned and operated by Vietnamese. I can't just get a pedicure.....I have to bug them to teach me a few new words or phrases. They laugh at me and of course, I can't blame them. The first time I asked my tech to say a particular sentence that had about 10 or 12 words to it...he said 2 short Vietnamese words.....

      "You said that ENTIRE sentence in 2 quick words???!!" Then they exchange comments with one another and I'm thinking, "OK, they're probably saying.....No wonder they lost the war....." or some such thing!!

      Speaking of "speaking".....I talk way too much!!.........UP+++

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 

      8 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Really great Hub, full of interesting information. Voted up, awesome and interesting. Hats off to your ezperience and savoir faire.

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 

      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Great article. My husband is bilingual ( English and Polish). As a naturalized citizen I assume most government jobs would be off limits or hard to get, but your other ideas are good ones. I am going to share this with him. Voted up!


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